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Welcome to Raleigh, the New Epicenter of College Basketball

For decades, Sammy’s Tap & Grill, a sports bar for fans of North Carolina State University, had a glaring problem: The school’s basketball teams did not win all that much. David Harris, one of the owners, would concoct creative specials in hopes of drawing customers on game days, but it didn’t matter. Few ever came.

“All of that has changed now,” Mr. Harris, 59, said the other day, his smile, like those of his patrons, seemingly permanent. “Can you believe it?”

The N.C. State women’s and men’s basketball teams are both in the Final Four. It is a sentence few in Raleigh believed they ever would utter. And to listen to them say it aloud this week was to hear the exhausted, sometimes tearful glee of an overjoyed fan base still in shock.

Their neighbors, after all, are basketball royalty. Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, each about 25 miles away, have won multiple national championships, and the North Carolina women’s team won it all in 1994. The two programs have one of the fiercest rivalries in college basketball.

Fans sending off the women’s team as it departed.
Wolfpack merchandise is a hotter item these days in Raleigh.

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